The Progress of Nations 1998

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Championing children's rights

Each year, The Progress of Nations ranks countries, not by the traditional yardstick of economic growth, but by the well-being of their children. One might expect the richest nations to be at the top of the class when it comes to providing for children. But the report confirms that monetary progress does not guarantee social development.

In fact, some of the most impoverished nations are making the greatest strides towards achieving the goals set at the 1990 World Summit for Children. Why? Because they have made fulfilling the basic needs of children a priority.

Charity is no longer enough. With only two holdouts preventing universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the community of nations is rapidly coming to grips with the fact that each and every child is entitled to a whole series of fundamental rights.

Copyright © UNICEF/3363-90/Antmann In recognition of that shift in thinking, The Progress of Nations is also expanding its focus. This year, for the first time, we look at children's civil rights, beginning at the beginning: with the right to be registered at birth. For millions of children, the lack of birth registration means exclusion from the rights and privileges a nation offers its citizens, such as education and health care.

This year's report also charts the dramatic progress in child immunization over the past 20 years, a legacy of which we can be proud. But the struggle is far from over: 2 million children still die each year because they lack access to this basic and inexpensive public health service.

The Progress of Nations 1998 points out that society has largely overlooked the vulnerabilities of adolescence in developing countries -- and that young people, who make up one sixth of the people on earth, need the support of their elders if they are to fulfil their promise and avoid the inevitable perils that lie ahead.

In addition, this year's report outlines the growing shame of homelessness in the richest countries, where there is an ominous rise in the proportion of families and young people lacking permanent shelter.

The gains made on behalf of children in the past half-century were scarcely imaginable when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of that historic document, we must rededicate ourselves to ensuring that the rights set out in the Declaration and the galaxy of human rights instruments that have flowed from it -- including the Convention on the Rights of the Child -- are fulfilled for every child.

Carol Bellamy
Executive Director

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